04 May 2023
Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (26) 4 May 2023
This is the Fourth Week of Easter, and today we move into the second half of the 50-day season of Easter. The Calendar of the Church of England today (4 May) remembers the English Saints and Martyrs of the Reformation Era with a Lesser Festival.
Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following our visit to Prague earlier this month, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:
1, Short reflections on a synagogue in Prague;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
The Spanish Synagogue, Prague:
During our visit to Prague last month, I visited about half-a-dozen or so of the surviving synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.
Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.
The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery.
I have visited the Spanish Synagogue in Dusni Street on a number of occasions in recent years, including an evening concert. Arabesques, gilt and polychrome motifs with a dazzling combination of rich green, blue and red hues make this Moorish-style synagogue one of the most beautiful in Europe. The interior of this 19th century building is breath-taking, with its Torah ark and central dome as masterpieces of Spanish-inspired architecture.
Although the Spanish Synagogue is the newest synagogue in the Jewish Town, it stands on the site of the oldest synagogue in Prague, the ‘Old School’ or Altschule.
A small park with a statue by Jaroslav Róna of Prague’s best-known Jewish writer Franz Kafka lies between the synagogue and the neighbouring Church of Holy Spirit, first built in 1346 as part of a Benedictine convent.
The Old Synagogue or Altschule dated back to at least the 12th century, and its story was one of tragedy after tragedy. The victim of four fires, the synagogue was also damaged in the Easter pogrom in 1389. It was shut down by Emperor Leopold I in 1693 but opened its doors again in 1704, only to be pillaged in 1744.
During the 18th century, the Empress Maria Theresa let the synagogue fall into disrepair. But at the end of the 18th century, the Renaissance structure was transformed into a late Gothic style building.
The Old Synagogue was rebuilt five times from 1536 to 1837. When it was renovated in 1837, it became the first synagogue in Prague to offer reform services and the first in Bohemia to have an organ. Frantisek Skroup, who would later compose the Czechoslovak and now Czech national anthem, Where is my home?, was the organist and choirmaster there for almost 10 years, from 1836 to 1845.
Reticulated vaulting was added in the 1840s. But by then, the Altschule was too small for the needs of its congregation. They decided to demolish it in 1867 and replace with the new, Spanish Synagogue, built a year later.
At first, the synagogue was known to German-speaking Jews in Prague as Geistgasse-Tempel, or ‘Temple in Holy Spirit Street,’ which seemed an incongruous combination of names until I stood by Kafka’s statue between the church and the synagogue.
Prague’s Jewish community has always been mainly Ashkenazic, so the name of the Spanish Synagogue does not refer to a Sephardic presence in Prague. Instead, the name refers to the Moorish revival style in its architectural design, inspired by the Alhambra and the art and architecture of the Arabic period in Spanish history.
A similar cultural influence shaped the design of the Neue Synagoge or ‘New Synagogue’ on Oranienburger Straße, the main synagogue of the Jewish community in Berlin, built in 1859-1866, with its domes and its exotic Moorish style that also reflect the Alhambra.
The Spanish Synagogue was designed by Vojtěch Ignác Ullmann, a renowned architect of the Bohemian neo-renaissance, and the imposing interior and layout were created by Josef Niklas.
The synagogue is two storeys high, its ground plan is square and the main hall has a dome that is surrounded by three built-in balconies, with an organ in the south balcony.
The synagogue is laid out in the Reform style. The bimah or reading platform is at the east end rather than in the central space as in traditional Ashkenazic synagogues or at the west wall as in Sephardic synagogues.
The monumental Aron ha Kodesh or Holy Ark where the Torah scrolls are kept has no parochet or curtain today, and seems to be designed in the style of a mihrab. Above, in the east wall, a great round stained-glass window with a central decoration of the six-sided Magen David (Star of David) was installed in 1882-1883.
The benches stand in rows, like pews in a church, instead of being arranged around the walls. They are not original, but come from a synagogue in Zruč nad Sázavou, a small town in Central Bohemia, south-east of Prague.
The most impressive decorative element in the synagogue is a gilded and multi-coloured parquet arabesque. The synagogue was decorated in 1882-1893 to the designs of Antonín Baum and Bedřich Münzberger, who were inspired by Arabic architecture and art.
The overpowering internal decoration is formed by low stucco of stylised and coloured Islamic motifs. Decorative elements were also applied to the doors, the organ and the wall panelling, and the windows are filled with tinted glass.
In 1935, a functionalistic building, designed by Karel Pecánek, was added to the synagogue. Until World War II, it served the Jewish Community as a hospital. The synagogue also used the space of the new building, which provides a vestibule, a shop, a winter oratory and additional exhibition space.
Since 1935, the appearance of the synagogue has remained essentially unchanged.
The Nazis used this synagogue during World War II to catalogue and store property stolen from the Czech Jewish communities, including furniture from other synagogues.
Ten years after the war, the synagogue was returned to the Jewish Museum, it was fully restored inside in 1958-1959, and an exhibition of synagogue textiles opened there in 1960. By the 1970s, however, the building was neglected and it remained closed after 1982.
Restoration work resumed after the ‘Velvet Revolution.’ The synagogue was completely restored to its former beauty and re-opened in 1998.
This beautiful synagogue is used today by Conservative Jewish community Bejt Praha. Kabbalat Shabbat is at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., depending on the time of year, and the synagogue welcomes all Jews, whether Reform, Orthodox or Secular.
The Spanish Synagogue is administered by the Jewish Museum in Prague. The exhibitions look at modern Jewish history in the Czech lands, from the reforms initiated by the Emperor Joseph II to the contribution of many Jewish people – including Franz Kafka – to Czech culture, literature, education, economy and science, as well as the traumatic events of the 20th century. It is also a regular venue for cultural events, including concerts and readings.
John 12: 20-26 (NRSVA):
20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.’
The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East, Davidson Solanki, who reflected on the work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital, Bangladesh, for International Midwives’ Day tomorrow.
The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Thursday 4 May 2023):
Let us pray for the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh. May they be supported by the Church to strengthen their identity, discover their worth and find their voice.
who, when your Church on earth was torn apart
by the ravages of sin,
raised up men and women in this land
who witnessed to their faith with courage and constancy:
give to your Church that peace which is your will,
and grant that those who have been divided on earth
may be reconciled in heaven
and share together in the vision of your glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God, the source of all holiness and giver of all good things:
may we who have shared at this table
as strangers and pilgrims here on earth
be welcomed with all your saints
to the heavenly feast on the day of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
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